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Bad News For Humans From Proxima b

First Posted: Feb 10, 2017 03:51 AM EST

Earth-sized exoplanet Proxima b that is discovered last year might not be habitable after all, scientists at NASA have found out. Though the planet is in the habitable zone of its star Proxima Centauri, it is unlikely to host life due to exposure to frequent stellar eruptions.

Proxima b has been quite the favorite of the scientists, astronomy and space enthusiasts since its discovery in 2016, when it was touted as the nearest planet to Earth capable of being habitable. In fact, according to a Popular Mechanics report, there are even plans to send an unmanned mission to visit the exoplanet in the near future. However, now, it seems that all the excitement surrounding the planet could, very well, go in vain.

The reason why Proxima b was proposed as the favorite candidate for being the next Earth was due to its location, as it lies in the habitable zone of its host star. The habitable zone of any star is the area where it is neither too cold nor hot for liquid water to exist. However, liquid water is not the only crucial ingredient to host life. Now, NASA scientists have found that habitable zone of small red dwarf stars like Proxima Centauri might be smaller than previously thought.

The latest findings by NASA about small red dwarf stars is that their intense stellar flares and coronal mass ejections might eliminate or shrink the habitable zone. Moreover, since Proxima Centauri is much smaller compared to the Sun, Proxima b and the habitable zone are much nearer to the star. Consequently, solar storms pose a more dangerous risk to any possible life on the planet.

The powerful solar flares and coronal mass ejections would have blasted away much of Proxima b’s atmosphere, unless the planet has a really strong magnetic field. Consequently, important ingredients for life to exist like oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen would be lost to space, and therefore, the planet would have lost its ability to retain or create water.

Additionally, young stars like Proxima Centauri are violent, which indicates that severe solar weather keeps on bombarding Proxima b. According to NASA scientists, Proxima b’s atmosphere is disappearing fast -- that is, if it has not gone already. Therefore, with so many factors going against the planet, it is highly unlikely that it hosts or can host life.

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